Twenty-four years since he first made his mark on the standup comedy scene with his unfiltered brand of brutally honest, profane and incisively hilarious observational humor, Dane Cook returns to TV with Troublemaker, his first standup concert special in four years, taped on tour last fall at the Venetian in Las Vegas.
In the show, premiering on Showtime tonight (10 p.m. ET/PT), he takes no prisoners, skewering relationships, sex, cyber-connecting and life in general.
Cook, who directed and funded the project, is equally perceptive and open when discussing his life and career, as we discovered in this interview.
“You grow up a lot in this business. You go through the spanking machine and you earn your stripes, but at the same time it’s thankless and it can be unforgiving. You’re cool one minute, then you’re not.”
Why did you name the special Troublemaker?
Troublemaker is me, no holds barred, talking about these things that we’re all experiencing in terms of tech and modern relationships. As I was prepping the show on tour people were coming up and saying they broke up with their girlfriend or boyfriend right after they saw my show. On the other side of it, I’ve had people come up to me and say, they’re together and stronger than ever because of things they realized, so I’ve brought some couples closer and decimated some other relationships.
You directed yourself. Did that put more pressure on you?
It was definitely an entirely different experience from anything I had done in my career. In the past I’ve always had a corporate partner who’s not only footing the bill but also pumping you up and keeping you on course and making sure that you’ve got everything that you need. This was my own investment, taking a hundred percent financial responsibility. That way I could really make something that I felt like captured exactly who I was at the exact moment that I was doing it. It was a real challenge, making it look easy-breezy, seamless and relaxed, like there wasn’t a lot of work or time or effort that goes into it. With this performance, I’m planting the flag for what I think is going to be the next act of my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to capture what I think is a very pure evening of comedy.
Is anything off limits?
Nothing is off limits. I believe that you have to walk into a comedy club and give up permission to judge. You have to leave that at the door. I got frustrated when a bit I was working out for 35 people ended up on CNN. I think that’s unfair. It’s between that comedian and the people that have chosen to dare to enter that room to hear things that may be off limits. In a comedy club you shouldn’t have to apologize. That’s sacred ground in there.
Do you think your bad boy reputation is deserved?
I think it’s kind of comical, the public perception. I’ve never fought against it. I don’t mind that people want to poke me a little bit and say, “Are you really a troublemaker in real life?” because I just think that it keeps things interesting and it’s never a bad idea to keep the mystery. I would rather have people debating and having strong opinions than shrugging and going, “Yeah, he’s good.” That’s kind of boring.
What do you love about standup?
I love the escape. I grew up in a family with a lot of hardship, a lot of struggle, and we dealt with a lot of things through humor, whether it was making each other laugh or watching Saturday Night Live or HBO young comedians specials or Showtime on the road. We were able to find ways to make each other crack up during some pretty dark periods. A part of why I wanted to be a comedian was probably because I knew it helped my family escape from the doldrums of despair. And I also felt like I could see the world and break out of a lot of insecurity. I thought it would be a great way for me to challenge myself in this life and get out of that small town that I was in. I love it as much today as I did when I was a little kid watching it or when I first started doing it.
Do you have current or future tour plans?
I’m going to do the New York Comedy Festival November 6-7. I’ve been working on new material and will probably do something in the spring, maybe including an international tour. It might be kind of fun to shoot my next special in another country.
What do you get from standup that you don’t get from acting, and vice versa?
I get a different charge completely. Stand up is a solo mission. You’re the producer, director, it’s all about you. You live and die by what you’re doing up there. Acting is a collaborative effort. And I love that. I like being a tool for a director’s vision. He’s chosen me to make a character that he’s dreamed up come to life. I like rehearsing with other actors. It doesn’t feel anything like stand up to me, and I get a completely different jolt from that.
Of the roles that you’ve done so far, what are you proudest of? Your favorites?
Some of the more independent, gritty roles I’ve enjoyed the most, a role like Mr. Brooks with Kevin Costner, or Dan In Real Life with Steve Carell. Those roles are gratifying because I get to play against type and what people are anticipating. I have a film that I executive produced and I’m starring in that’s coming out next spring. It’s a psychological thriller called 400 Days about astronauts preparing for a mission to Mars by going into a simulator. It takes a very unique twist about midway through that leaves you wondering if they’re really in a simulator, or is something else happening here? It’s Brandon Routh, Ben Feldman and Caity Lotz, and I play Cole Dvorak, the mechanic, who films it from a first-person perspective. I put on about 25 pounds of muscle to play him. I wanted him to have an intimidating presence because you’re not really sure if he’s a good guy or if he’s part of the problem. I got back in the gym and did a whole lot of upper body stuff to bulk up. I’m down about 20 pounds now. I’m feeling like the old me again.
What goals do you set for yourself now? Is there a to-do list?
There’s another comedy film that I plan to do, we’re just locking up the money and hopefully will shoot in the spring. Like Troublemaker, it’s all from me, which I love. Hit or miss, at least you know it was you and your team, not something that came to you in the last minute that you’re trying to make work.
Do you have any personal goals?
No, but I really need to work on that more. I love working and it has been really difficult for me to take down time, but I took all of 2010 off. That was remarkable because I had not taken a day off in 10 years leading up to that. Within nine months I lost both my mom and dad to cancer and it was traumatic. But I never really had a chance to go through a true grieving process. My goal that year was to work as hard on myself as I ever have on my career. I realized that I like working with kids and I wanted to do a lot more charity stuff that involved kids. I knew that I also was ready to start sharing some of the knowledge that I had with a next generation of comedians and entertainers, to be able to take people under my wing and help them see their dreams come to fruition. So it was a pivotal year in my career, and I think Troublemaker is a result of taking that time, and reflects it even though there are elements to it that are dark and twisted.
You’re single, no kids. Any plans to change that?
I look forward to changing that. I’ve dated some incredible women but still haven’t found the one that I feel like I’m equal with. You really want to feel like you both bring something to the relationship, and sometimes that’s tricky.
Does your act scare women off?
You’ve got to meet the right person that can let things roll off their back a bit because they realize that it’s all in good humor. I like to be challenged. I like somebody who is energetic like myself. I do like to travel and I’m outdoorsy and I like to go zipline or rock climb. So I think that I need to meet that person who isn’t afraid to put me in my own place, and also at the same time enhances what I love and enjoy about life. I’ve yet to meet that person, but I feel she’s right around the corner.
What are your deal breakers?
Besides not bathing, the only turn-off for me is somebody that is ungrateful, somebody who ends up coattail riding. If I see that, I’m pretty much looking for the door.
Looking back, do you have any regrets? Anything you’d change?
I had a lot of problems with loving myself when I was young. I struggled with self-loathing and some depression when I was a kid. And even in my comedy career there were definitely periods where either things dried up or I hit success and there was a backlash. You feel like the world is against you. But there’s nothing I regret. Some of my greatest moments and tighter friendships came of that tumultuous time. I realize that even the crappy moments where things seemed to have come to a screeching halt in my life led me to something more. You grow up a lot in this business. You go through the spanking machine and you earn your stripes, but at the same time it’s thankless and it can be unforgiving. You’re cool one minute, then you’re not. That’s why doing something like Troublemaker on my own and having control of it 100 percent, no one can take that away from you. You’re always the best in your field if you’re creating the field.